The last post in this series covered the period between 1950 and 1956. This one covers the ensuing two years. That’s because a lot happened, which set the stage for decades to come.
LONGER RUNWAY FOR ANG JET FIGHTERS
Runway 12-30, with a northwest-southeast orientation, opened at 4002′ x 100′. In 1947, it was extended to 5000′ and widened to 150′ for operations by the 169th’s P-51 Mustangs. As early as 1948, a USAF general suggested ANG would soon obtain jet fighters, requiring at least 6000′ runway length.
At first, the airport’s 3600′ northeast-southwest runway (4-22) was to be lengthened to 4800′ or 5000′. Unfortunately, issues with mining subsidence and airfield funding delayed these projects, and by the time they were solved, the Korean War consumed funding and supplies which would have enabled runway expansion.
Another issue was Monroe School, which would have to relocate if 4-22 were extended to 6000′ or even 7000′ to accomodate ANG jet fighters. Proposals from late 1950 to build a new 4-22 further north or extend the airport’s north-south runway Z(18-36) to 7000′ were not taken up.
In September 1951, the GPAA decided that 12-30 should be extended to 7000′. Cost was estimated at $2.5 million, and would have to be funded by the federal government. In January 1952, future airport expansion included extending 12-30 to 6800′ with 1000′ of ground on either end, a 1000′ extension of the east-west runway (8-26) and extension of 4-22.
In August 1953, it was suggested the 169th could obtain F-86 Sabre Jets, famous for their role in the Korean War, which ended a month earlier. Deployment to the Peoria base required a 7000′ runway at minimum. By January 1954, when funding looked like it would become available, there were plans to extend 12-30 to 8000′ but with a 1000′ overrun.
Interestingly, the 169th obtained its first jet, a T-33A trainer, in January 1955. Lacking adequate runways at Peoria, the jet was based at Springfield! But help was on the way: In March 1956, a vast expansion project for USAF facilities including the runway extension at Peoria, to be funded by the USAF. Plans now called for extension to 7000′ with a 1000′ overrun.
The 169th acquired its first jet, an F-84 Thunderjet, first of 25, on December 9, 1957. Its T-33A and F-84s arrived Peoria on August 16, 1958 after the 12-30 extension had been completed.
Airline passenger traffic more than doubled from 1950 (22,903) to 1954 (48,336), so the 5,000-sq. ft. terminal that had opened in 1945 was no longer adequate. Plans to double its size were made public in September 1954. The next month, Ozark Air Lines inaugurated its Peoria-Chicago (Midway) flights, increasing weekday departures from all four carriers to 21. PIA clearly needed a bigger terminal, and something had to be done quickly.
By December 1954, the airport decided a new terminal was necessary and opened bids for the project. A sketch of the proposed new facility was shown to the GPAA in August 1955. It had 37,000 sq. ft. and a five-story control tower. Thanks to Ozark’s new Chicago flights, traffic jumped 40 percent to 68,058 passengers in 1955!
The Peoria Journal Star reported January 1, 1956 that the new terminal would cost $650,000. It would be built in the northwest quadrant of the airfield with access from Maxwell Road. By late spring, construction on the $305,000 terminal apron commenced.
Final approval of terminal plans came in February 1957 and basement was dug and footings were placed that summer. Structural steel for the new building arrived in December that year. Erection commenced in January 1958.
EXPANDING AIR ROUTES
After extending its system to Chicago (Midway) in October 1954, Ozark Air Lines pursued further expansion out of Peoria. This was welcomed by local travelers since American Airlines and Trans World Airlines had no interest in doing so. Byerly Aviation apparently ceased scheduled passenger service after May 1956.
Ozark began a new route linking Peoria with Burlington, Ottumwa and Des Moines on June 17, 1956. Two daily roundtrips originated and terminated at Chicago (Midway), thus increasing Peoria’s service to that city as well. The expansion increased the carrier’s weekday service here to 16 departures.
Service to Minneapolis/St. Paul began April 28, 1957 with a single daily roundtrip via Cedar Rapids (IA) and Rochester (MN). Minnesota’s Twin Cities had nearly a nearly 1.2 million metro population in 1950, and served as main base for Northwest Airlines and North Central Airlines, providing connections to the nation’s northern tier, Alaska and to Asia as well.
The Greater Peoria Airport handle 82,257 passengers in 1956, and 94,915 in 1957. Business was booming, and schedules effective 4/27/58 show Ozark Air Lines operating 19 weekday departures to Chicago (Midway), Des Moines, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis and many smaller points in between with Douglas DC-3s. Indianapolis service was actually via a connection at Springfield (single-plane accommodations may have been dropped in 1954). Trunk carriers American and TWA offered token service with larger, twin-engine, 40-seat propliners.
One thing bugs me about this schedule. Note that TWA’s westbound flight originating at Pittsburgh stopped at Chicago’s O’Hare Field while the eastbound flight stopped at Midway! Neither newspapers nor the Official Airline Guide clear up this possibly anomaly. Here’s what I found.
An article appearing in the Chicago Daily Herald on May 1, 1958, TWA Increases O’Hare Flights By 300 Percent, details new service effective April 27, 1958. Daily flights would grow from two to eight and include a new twin-engine (Martin 404) flight to Peoria and Kansas City. Problem is, this service was already shown in the Official Airline Guide’s March 1958 edition. I’m leaning toward a conclusion that TWA intended to start such service at an earlier date, but did not do so until 4/27/58.
By why offer service to Midway eastbound and O’Hare westbound? Although flights originated and terminated east of Chicago, it is likely most passengers made connections there. I doubt travelers looked forward to transiting one airport enroute to their destination, then having to go through another on the return home.
This had to be confusing for unseasoned travelers, especially when the local media failed to note how service was divided between the two facilities. In fact, when the Peoria Journal Star reported new schedules in its April 25, 1958 edition, no mention was ever made that TWA would switch westbound service to Peoria from Midway to O’Hare two days later!
O’Hare Field opened to commercial airlines in 1955 when a Y-shaped terminal was dedicated. Midway Airport was congested and boxed in between city streets and railroads, precluding expansion. So O’Hare would be Chicago’s future airline stop. But the transition from Midway to O’Hare was slow in the years 1955-1958, and with service divided between the facilities, some airlines paid for their passengers’ transportation between them when necessary to make a connection. Chicago Helicopter Airways made a lot of money doing this. Bus service was also available.
The next installment of this series will jump to January 1960.
– David P. Jordan